Xanax is a drug that is part of a bigger group of medications known as benzodiazepines, which are central nervous system (CNS) depressants used to treat anxiety, insomnia, and seizures. While the current opioid crisis has stolen the spotlight from other drugs, there is a danger lurking in its shadow. Doctors are prescribing benzodiazepine drugs like Xanax at alarming rates, and most are not even taking their debilitating and deadly effects into account.
Take a look at the story of a woman named Christy Huff who developed an eye ailment that led to disruptions in her sleep patterns. This eventually turned into what her doctor diagnosed as insomnia. The solution that was given was Xanax. Following her doctor’s advice, she began using the medication as it was prescribed.
As she followed the instructions and took one pill before bed, she was provided with relief as she was able to fall asleep quickly. She mentions that when taking Xanax for sleep, all of the terrors and anxiety “melted away.” Unfortunately, however, she began experiencing anxiety, daytime terrors, and tremors. None of which she had ever experienced before treating her insomnia. She soon started to realize that when she was not taking the Xanax, she was going through withdrawal. It only took three weeks for Christy Huff to become dependent on Xanax, which speaks volumes to how addictive it is.
There were no warnings or conversations about the possibility of dependence. That is the over-looked problem with this potent drug. It is prescribed for some of the most common mental illnesses that people struggle from such as stress and anxiety.
It’s not to say there aren’t disorders that genuinely require a benzodiazepine prescription, but doctors have been over-prescribing drugs like Xanax for years and the effects from this are starting to become apparent. Much like the opioid crisis, it began with over-prescribing and ignoring the addictive tendencies the drugs boasted, and it wasn’t until too late that action was taken.
Information released by The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) states that there were 8,791 overdose deaths involving benzos in 2015, up from 1,135 in 1999. Between 1996 and 2013, the number of adults that filled a benzodiazepine prescription increased by 67 percent, reaching 13.5 million in 2013. Unfortunately, the awareness about benzo dangers is far less common, and that is directly related to the attention the opioid crisis has received. Opioids, including prescription opioids, fentanyl, and heroin all contributed to killing more than 42,000 people in 2016.
The time has come where more education is necessary to navigate away from another crisis similar to what we are experiencing. If you or someone you know is currently taking Xanax and experiencing withdrawal symptoms when you don’t have the drug, we have tips for how you can best handle withdrawal.
A rule of thumb when stopping Xanax is to taper the dosage 5 to 10 percent every week for a faster detox, but physicians and addiction specialists would recommend decreasing five to 10 percent every two weeks. Doing so over a more extended period will reduce the risks of psychosis and seizures, which are the most life-threatening and common symptoms.
It is challenging to taper in such small increments due to the small size of Xanax pills. Xanax is a short-acting drug, meaning its concentration in the body will fluctuate even by weaning off slightly.
Another route to help taper is known as the Ashton Manual, which is substituting one benzo for another longer-lasting drug like Valium. It can sometimes work because longer-acting benzos will stay in the system for a longer duration, which can ease symptoms and make them easier to manage. This should never be done without medical supervision.
The most efficient way to taper off Xanax, however, is to seek medical detoxification. During the period of stopping Xanax, it may be challenging to try and measure out doses and go through this process on your own. Moreover, it will place you in an environment where addiction specialists can act if anything does not go according to plan. Xanax withdrawal has the potential to be life-threatening, and if you are taking steps to stop using Xanax, it is vital that you have someone ensuring your safety through this process.
Xanax is a highly addictive drug mostly due to the fact that it can quickly change the chemical pathways in our brain. When this occurs, it causes the body to decrease the production of its natural chemicals that are involved in those pathways and take their place. The result is that a tolerance develops to the drug, which occurs when the person needs more of the drug to achieve the same results as before.
Unfortunately, this can occur in as little as four weeks, and in Christy’s case, it could happen in three weeks, but this depends on the person. Xanax is never meant to be prescribed for long-term treatment because it causes tolerance and chemical dependence in such a short time, but that is not always the case.
Once a tolerance or chemical dependence has developed, the person becomes unable to function correctly without taking Xanax. This is one of the trademarks of addiction, and it shows that it is time for the person to seek treatment and prevent potential long-term physical or psychological issues.
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Withdrawals from Xanax can be mild to severe depending on the person, how long the drugs have been used, and the dosage. Some of these symptoms can involve:
When someone comes to the understanding that they’ve developed a Xanax dependence or addiction, their first instinct may be to stop the drug on their own. That is not the best option, and there will be many problems that can plague you if you do so. If you have reached the point of wanting to stop, it is imperative you seek professional help to do it the right way.
The first problem with stopping on your own is that your body will continue to crave more Xanax in order to sustain normal life functions. You may not want to stop taking it because the drug offers comfort, and that is because of the reward system that addiction stimulates. You may feel better using the drug and want to continue taking it.
If you were to decrease the dose to wean off of Xanax or stop taking the drug altogether, the body may react negatively and make you feel much worse. Withdrawal symptoms will arise if you try to stop taking Xanax or other benzos. Those who are addicted will avoid stopping because of the withdrawal.
It is more than just dangerous, though, abrupt cessation of Xanax on your own can be deadly.
Dangers of rising benzo prescriptions raise alarms of next drug crisis. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.nbcnews.com/health/health-news/dangers-rising-benzo-prescriptions-raise-alarms-next-drug-crisis-n895361
(n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.benzo.org.uk/manual/bzcha02.htm
National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2018, August 09). Overdose Death Rates. Retrieved from https://www.drugabuse.gov/related-topics/trends-statistics/overdose-death-rates